MONEY stocks

Virtual Reality Makes Investing — Yes, Investing — Dangerously Fun

StockCity
StockCity from FidelityLabs

A new virtual reality tool from Fidelity makes navigating the stock market feel like a game—for better or worse.

There’s no question: Strapping on an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset and exploring StockCity, Fidelity’s new tool for investors, is oddly thrilling.

Admittedly, the fun may have more to do with the immersive experience of this 3D technology—with goggles that seamlessly shift your perspective as you tilt your head—than with the subject matter.

But I found it surprisingly easy to buy into the metaphor: As you glide through the virtual city that you’ve designed, buildings represent the stocks or ETFs in your portfolio, the weather represents the day’s market performance, and red and green rooftops tell you whether a stock is down or up for the day. Who wants to be a measly portfolio owner when you can instead be the ruler of a dynamic metropolis—a living, breathing personal economy?

Of course, there are serious limits to the tool in its current form. The height of a building represents its closing price on the previous day and the width the trading volume, which tell you nothing about, say, the stock’s historical performance or valuation—let alone whether it’s actually a good investment.

And, unless you’re a reporter like me or one of the 50,000 developers currently in possession of an Oculus Rift, you’re limited to playing with the less exciting 2D version of the program on your monitor (see a video preview below)—at least until a consumer version of the headset comes out in a few months, priced between $200 and $400.

Those flaws notwithstanding, if this technology makes the “gamification” of investing genuinely fun and appealing, that could be big deal. It could be used to better educate the public about the stock market and investing in general.

But it also raises a big question: Should investing be turned into a game, like fantasy sports?

There are dangers inherent in ostensibly educational games like Fidelity’s existing Beat the Benchmark tool, which teaches investing terms and demonstrates how different asset allocations have performed over various time periods. If you beat your benchmark, after all, what have you learned? A lot of research suggests that winning at investing tends to teach people the wrong lesson.

“Investors think that good returns originate from their investment skills, while for bad returns they blame the market,” writes Thomas Post, a finance professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands and author of one recent study on the subject.

In reality, great performance in the stock market tends to depend more on luck than skill, even for the most expert investors. That’s why most people are best off putting their money into passive index funds and seldom trading. It also means there’s not a lot of value in watching the real-time performance of your stocks—in any number of dimensions.

TIME Gadgets

Samsung and Oculus Teamed Up to Make This Virtual Reality Headset

Samsung

In another bet on the future of technology

In another bet that wearables are the future of tech, Samsung announced Wednesday a new virtual reality headset called the Samsung Gear VR. The new device will use the just-announced Samsung Galaxy Note 4’s 5.-7 inch screen as its display, while using technology developed by Oculus VR, a virtual reality company purchased by Facebook for $2 billion earlier this year.

The Samsung Gear VR will come with new virtual reality software developed by Oculus, including a virtual movie theater called Oculus Cinema and programs that let users play back panoramic photos and videos in a virtual reality environment. Oculus has been working on the Samsung project for at least a year, well before the Facebook purchase.

For now the Gear VR is only being released as a beta version, which means it’s aimed at developers and VR enthusiasts and not the general public just yet (just like the Oculus Rift). The headset launches in the fall, but Samsung hasn’t yet disclosed its price.

TIME Innovation

Oculix, Netflix’s Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Demo, Looks Pretty Boring

Virtual reality interfaces should be more than clumsy-looking design transplants.

It’s a little discouraging watching Netflix’s Oculus Rift demo (a so-called hack it’s calling “Oculix”), the one where the screen pans through a black void in which the observer finds her- or himself circled by show portals.

Imagine iOS wrapped around your head like a towel: a vortex of lights, or a sheath of video boxes. (For some reason, it made me think of the Senate chamber in the Star Wars prequels with its movable hover-platforms.)

Pick a channel by waving your hands in the air (using LeapMotion’s gesture sensor) and you can stream movies or TV shows through Oculus’s head-mounted contraption direct to your eyeballs.

This isn’t what’s interesting about virtual reality to me. We’ve placed movies up close to our faces for decades, be that on giant screens or via glasses with special LCD displays designed to confound our sense of scale. But what’s so different about sitting in a comfortable movie theater (or for that matter, an Omnimax wraparound dome) looking at screens dozens of feet tall and wide, compared with watching video at home through a glorified, full-motion View Master?

Home convenience, there’s that, though I’d argue there’s little convenient about clapping hardware as unwieldy as World War I gas masks on our heads, then leashing ourselves to stationary servers with clumsy cables.

I’m less put off by the ungainliness of Oculus Rift (and Project Morpheus, and every other attempt to revive the buzz-concept “virtual reality” lately) than I am by the lack of imagination in these hacked-together interfaces, whereby a company takes the most obvious and mundane approach toward exhibiting the potential VR lays at its doorstep. Strap on Oculus Rift and you can watch Netflix videos up close to your face! Wave your hands in the air like Tom Cruise in Minority Report and take two or three times as long to do what takes everyone else microseconds with a remote or on a touch-based tablet!

To be fair, it is just a hack, and in a statement Netflix noted that it “may never become part of the Netflix product, internal infrastructure, or otherwise be used beyond [Netflix] Hack Day.” In other words, it’s just for fun, not even rising to the level “proof of concept.” This isn’t Netflix trying to sell you on either its stake in VR or the Oculus Rift headset itself.

I’m just surprised by its obviousness. If you’re going to hack Netflix into VR, why not do something no one’s seen before? Imagine, for instance, summoning a movie like The Matrix, only going into the extras and bringing up the making-of clips, then having the option to pan around virtual versions of the “bullet time” sets to see for yourself how that went down. You could be Keanu Reeves (or see what he’d be seeing) as he falls back limbo-like, his arms splaying, or you could be the circle of cameras themselves, wheeling around the actor’s frame at different velocities and elevations. Imagine reassembling a scene to create your own version of events, playing the role of virtual director with godlike visual command of the landscape.

Netflix is a viewing environment, an interface to conjure videos on demand, a kind of “visual carrier.” If we’re about to experience the visual paradigm shift everyone keeps telling us VR amounts to, it has a much bigger role to play in shaping what it means to stream a video in a virtual environment. To me, it at least means more than forklifting a bunch of screens into a wraparound environment, just because enveloping yourself in a cone of colors looks cool.

My hat’s off to the programmers who took the time to build the Oculix demo. I certainly couldn’t have done it. But next time, why not show us VR that feels like a compelling reason to use VR, and not just lights in a box on your face.

TIME Gadgets

Now You Can Tour Colleges Using a Virtual Reality Headset

Virtual keggers aren't quite the same though

For those unable or unwilling to travel halfway across the country at huge expense for a college tour, there might be an answer. Virtual tour firm YouVisit now allows you to take virtual college tours using Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset bought by Facebook for $2 billion earlier this year.

The technology tracks the user’s eye movements and allows them to see entire rooms from the ceiling to the floor, as if they are actually there.

YouVisit CTO, Taher Baderkhan, said “Our mission, from the day we started the company, is making the campus visit more attainable to students.”

Related:

MONEY’s Best Colleges

MONEY’s Best Colleges That You Can Actually Get Into

TIME Video Games

Virtual Reality and Eye Tracking: Sony’s Vision of the Future

Sony envisions a future where virtual reality is king

After Nintendo’s “smash hit” Wii, Sony realized that raw horsepower wasn’t necessarily the be all, end all for a video game console. Jump to the beginning of 2013, when Playstation formed Magic Lab: a special R&D arm at PlayStation tasked with dreaming up the next generation of gaming experiences.

“We had the concept in 2012 for this group which would use technology to really explore new experiences,” said Richard Marks, Director of PlayStation’s Magic Lab. “We really focused a lot on technology in the past, and [now] we really want to focus more on the new experiences that technology enables. One of the things that we believe strongly in is actually prototyping things; we call it: experiencing engineering.”

Since joining Sony, Richard Marks has been responsible for the development of Sony’s PlayStation Eye, PlayStation Move controllers and now Sony’s foray into virtual reality: Project Morpheus, a wraparound headset designed to work with the company’s PlayStation 4 games console. The headset’s revelation came in tandem with Facebook’s high-stakes maneuver to put virtual reality on the map for non-gamers per its recent $2 billion acquisition of Oculus Rift.

So far, Sony’s touted Morpheus to game designers at shows like the Game Developers Conference and E3 to drum up development interest (though the technology’s still far from a commercial product — it currently has no release date). Morpheus’ display still has a few issues, too: there’s a stutter effect on some demonstrations caused by high latency, and Morpheus’ Field of View (FOV) doesn’t cover everyone’s vision completely. The technology also has various critics predicting that it lacks a mass market appeal. But then again Morpheus is only a prototype, as are the various Oculus Rift iterations.

“There’s a trade-off. There’s a fixed amount of resolution. So you can either give that to a really wide field of view or you can make [the resolution] feel higher, but the [field of view] narrower. We’re trying to get a good balance of that. Right now we’re still working on the issue of the display. Right now we have a great prototype system for our developers … [but] for the commercial system, we’re still working on that.”

And as a prototype, Project Morpheus is an amazing portal into what VR could look like for the future. The technology is so electrifying that creators and entrepreneurs outside the games industry are seeing VR’s potential, which is why Facebook put up the cash in the first place. For instance, currently Sir David Attenborough is creating a VR nature documentary, companies are looking into how VR can impact education and Hollywood is looking into virtual reality movies.

Whether VR will succeed as a mass market product or not remains to be seen; in the meantime, PlayStation’s Magic Lab is tinkering with its notion of what the future of gaming might look like.

During the launch of the PlayStation 4 in November 2013, Marks and fellow Magic Lab researcher Eric Larsen were demoing their eye tracking or “gaze tracking” technology. “A lot of different people are looking at how to track your eyes. Our focus is more on, if you can track your eyes, what do you do with it?” Marks said.

The technology has a lot of potential applications, like as a targeting assistant for shooter games, as Marks and Larsen demonstrated with the game Infamous: Second Son. One of the more interesting applications Marks noted is the ability to pick up on subtle, non-verbal communication cues. “Where someone is looking conveys a lot of information about what the person is interested in, what they intend to do, and it’s a very unconscious thing that people do,” Larsen said.

In the demonstration, the player interacts with a computer store merchant who’s trying to sell the player different products. The eye gazing technology detects what products the player is looking at and uses that information to decide what products to pitch the player. “You can make the characters smarter because they kind of react in a way that is more intelligent because they know what you’re looking at,” Marks adds.

On top of that, Magic Lab is also looking into biometrics, partnering with UC San Francisco to research brain waves as a feedback mechanism for how a game affects players.

Magic Lab, like Google X — responsible for the creation of Google Glass and Google’s Driverless Car — seems to be Sony’s take on “experiencing engineering” without the red-tape. Whether Magic Lab will create products with the same hype factor as Google X’s ideas is anyone’s guess, but if Morpheus is any indication, Marks and his team are off to a promising start.

MORE: What Gaming Industry Professionals Think of Virtual Reality:

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Virtual Reality

The Weirdest Thing at Google I/O Was This Cardboard Virtual Reality Box

Jared Newman for TIME

When Sundar Pichai announced that everyone at the Google I/O developers conference would get “Cardboard,” his tone was so understated that no one seemed to know whether he was deadpanning or being serious.

But sure enough, as we shuffled out of the conference room, clusters of Google staffers were handing out slabs of corrugated cardboard. Further inspection revealed that the cardboard could be unfolded, then folded back into the shape of a virtual reality headset, complete with a pair of magnifying lenses.

It turns out that Cardboard is no joke. Once it’s assembled, you just plop an Android phone inside, then load up the companion Cardboard app. From here, you can run several virtual reality demos, complete with head tracking through the phone’s accelerometers and gyroscopes. You can look around a virtual Hall of Mirrors, fly through Chicago with your head as the steering wheel, view YouTube videos as if you’re sitting in a movie theater and explore 360-degree panoramic photos.

Because your phone is all boxed up, you can’t reach the touch screen while using Cardboard. This is where things get even weirder: The box includes a metallic ring that snaps to the box through a magnet on the opposite side. Using your phone’s magnetometer, the ring acts as a trigger when you flick it downward, letting you select items as they come into view. (Cleverly, the box also includes rubber bands on each side of where the phone sits, to prevent it from sliding out.)

If you want to check Cardboard out yourself, it’s possible to build your own. The only downside is that there’s a bit of latency to the motion controls. It might make you want to hurl.

Google’s Cardboard is hardly the first virtual reality project to make use of the smartphone. Devices like the Durovis Dive are already available for purchase, and Samsung is reportedly working with Oculus VR on a headset powered by Galaxy phones. As The Verge points out, USC professor Mark Bolas came up with another do-it-yourself VR phone cradle a couple years ago.

Don’t expect Cardboard to become a frontrunner in the race for VR supremacy. Still, it’s a cute idea, and a throwback to the old Google, whose random public-facing projects weren’t always just for commercial gain, but for fun.

TIME Google

Google Just Released Its Most Low-Tech Product Ever

Google Cardboard
Google Cardboard Google

Google ended its annual I/O developer conference keynote with the peculiar announcement that it would be giving all attendees a piece of cardboard. It’s in support of a new virtual reality app for Android phones, appropriately called Cardboard, that Google says will allow people to “experience virtual reality in a simple, fun and inexpensive way.”

What that means is you boot up this app on your phone, stick your phone in a piece of actual cardboard, cut out some eye sockets in said cardboard, then stick your face in the low-tech device. You may recall this application from the time your parents let you play with a refrigerator box when you were five.

The app, which seems to be a real thing, includes the ability to look at popular Google services such as YouTube and Google Earth in a VR environment. Google has even offered some handy instructions for how to engineer your own cardboard mask. While the competing Oculus Rift virtual reality device costs $350, Google says a Cardboard headset is absolutely free if you happen to have an extra large pizza box lying around.

If this seems to ridiculous to be real, remember that an app that does nothing except send people the word “Yo” was recently one of the top programs in Apple’s App Store. One man’s trash is another man’s next billion-dollar project.

TIME e3 2014

This Is What Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto Thinks of Virtual Reality

Shigeru Miyamoto plays Project Giant Robot, using the GamePad's motion control sensors to move the robot's torso. Nintendo

The creator of Donkey Kong and Mario says he has "a little bit of uneasiness" at the prospect of gamers putting on goggles and playing by themselves.

Last week, the first half of my interview with Nintendo legend Shigeru Miyamoto touched on a pair of experimental new Wii U GamePad-centered games, as well as the company’s new Star Fox shooter for Wii U with its unique combinative control scheme.

After we spoke of those projects, I had a chance to ask Miyamoto several more broadly ranging questions, including one about virtual reality, the current industry interface-paramour. As always, his responses were playful, self-effacing, articulate and revelatory.

What are your thoughts on virtual reality today, and is Nintendo doing or thinking about anything in this space? Are we at the right point, technology-wise, to see this become more than a novelty peripheral?

We’ve been doing our own experiments with virtual reality dating back to the Virtual Boy. And even to some degree, the 3DS was designed with a little bit of this in mind with its stereoscopic 3D. So we’re always looking at hardware and assessing what’s possible.

And of course we understand that the hardware and technology have begun to drop in price. It’s still not at a cost basis that makes it easy for everyone to purchase as a mass-market product. But certainly it’s dropped somewhat.

As game designers, we at Nintendo are interested in VR technology and what it can do, but at the same time what we’re trying to do with Wii U is to create games for everyone in the living room. We want the Wii U to be a game system that brings video gamers into the living room. As as I explained last night [Sunday, June 8], it’s intended to be fun not only for the person who’s playing, but also for the people who are watching.

When you think about what virtual reality is, which is one person putting on some goggles and playing by themselves kind of over in a corner, or maybe they go into a separate room and they spend all their time alone playing in that virtual reality, that’s in direct contrast with what it is we’re trying to achieve with Wii U. And so I have a little bit of uneasiness with whether or not that’s the best way for people to play.

So from Nintendo’s perspective, there’s interest in the technology, but we think it might be better suited to some sort of attraction style of entertainment, say something at a video game arcade or things like that, rather than something that one person plays alone.

When we spoke a year ago, you said the Wii U’s development environment was a lot more complex than the Wii’s, which was impacting the rate of game completion and resulting in a lot of games being delayed. What are developers saying about the Wii U at this point?

It’s improved quite a bit from about a year ago, because we introduced Unity [a cross-platform game development engine] for Wii U. That’s actually enabled teams, even small teams, to be able to leverage that Unity development library to build games on Wii U. And so that’s changed the situation.

We’ve also finished really training our in-house designers and developers. Now we’re able with our internal teams to develop at a fairly quick pace as well.

How do you feel in 2014 — with such a flourishing games market, revenue-wise, and so many people in the business and so many copycat games — about game design? Is it harder for you now in that crowded market-space, or is it easier because of all the new design toolset possibilities to come up with novel gameplay ideas?

If you look at something like Project Guard, that was something that because the hardware itself is more capable now, and the processing power is better, we’ve been able to go back to an old idea and bring it to life on a new system. So there’s those types of examples.

And then you have other examples, such as the Louvre audio guide that we did on 3DS for the Louvre museum. That’s an example of taking something that existed in another medium previously, but because of the processing power and capabilities of gaming hardware, we were able to bring that to life in a new way that was interactive and created a new experience for users.

I think that where the games industry has come now, there’s more and more potential for us to look at those types of other mediums, where there may be something that exists in an original state, and by bringing that into an interactive state, we can do a lot of new and different things with it.

So I think there’s quite a bit of potential within the industry right now. But where I think there isn’t potential is in looking at what other people have done and simply copying games that already exist and trying to create your own version of that.

You’ve indicated that the conversation in game design should be about design, not power. And yet there’s the counterargument that greater processing power is like giving a painter more colors to paint with (even if painters only choose to employ a handful of them). Does Nintendo need to be more concerned with thinking not just about innovating on the interface side, but in terms of processing versatility as well?

I think that there’s a lot of different ways you can surprise an audience. Certainly some of those can be just with the graphics, or the characters and things like that. But I also think that there’s the ability to surprise people without those high specs using things like innovation and uniqueness and surprise within the gameplay.

For me, where I often struggle is when you present an idea and then it takes you a very long time to bring that idea to fruition because of the amount of work that goes into creating all the details necessary. So I tend to look for something that allows me to create my ideas in a way that doesn’t require as much work. I think that that’s able to bring us closer to what makes the game fun and interesting.

I also think that what’s important is timing within the entertainment industry; the timing with which you’re releasing these games. And so being able to create the games and bring them out in a way that you’re timing it right and surprising people with what’s in the game is also very important.

You told me last year that the Wii U was the most suitable device for the living room, given the uniqueness of the Wii U GamePad as a TV. Do you believe that’s true today, at least in the U.S., given the proliferation of less expensive devices like Roku and Amazon Fire TV? Why would people want the Wii U as a TV interface device given the rising popularity of those others?

When we first started designing Wii U, we had two ideas in mind.

One was that we wanted to design Wii U so you could start it up and play it even if you didn’t have access to the TV screen. That’s why we gave the Wii U its own independent screen with the GamePad.

The second thing we wanted to do was we wanted everyone to feel that Wii U was a devic — or set-top box or whatever you want to call it — that would be most convenient for everyone to have connected to their TV because of the way you’re able to interact with the screen and control the TV.

When we designed the Wii U, we designed it in a way that would allow you to do a lot of different things with your TV. For example, when you’re watching YouTube, people tend to watch YouTube alone, but we thought it’d be more fun for everyone to watch YouTube together. But when you do that, you then have to wait for someone to find the next thing to watch. We designed it so that while everyone’s watching YouTube on the TV, someone can be choosing what they want to watch next.

The same thing goes for streaming services. And then we also have in Japan a karaoke service where the whole family can be in front of the TV and singing karaoke, and while you’re waiting for your turn, you can be choosing what you’re going to sing next. We designed Wii U from the beginning to take advantage of that ability and give you new ways to use the TV, to be a device that gives the TV a lot of different uses in a convenient way.

What’s different between Wii U and other set-top streaming boxes is those boxes cost just $100 and all they do is send content to the TV. But with Wii U, it not only sends content to the TV, it also takes the content that can be on your TV and gives you instant access to that content by sending it all to the Wii U GamePad as well. You’re able to interact with it very easily and simply, and you get all of this in a box that only costs $300. We feel that for what Wii U is capable of doing, it’s a very versatile system and good value. But I think a lot of people look at it as just a gaming machine, they look at that $300 as the price for a game machine and they don’t get a sense for how good that value is.

That strikes me as one of your biggest challenges. I don’t know anyone, really, who uses their Wii U as a TV device.

It’s an important message, but the challenge for me is that if I start talking about those uses of Wii U, everybody starts asking me, “Well, what about the games?” But yes, what I hope is that everyone will start to understand and start telling each other that Wii U is a great thing to have connected to your TV because of everything it can do.

You mentioned at the pre-brief that you yourself had been working on the Wii U system update that dropped recently and added a quick start menu. Can you tell us anything about other future updates you’re planning for the system?

Yes, we’re definitely working on additional system updates. But the challenge is that any time you do an update that big, it requires quite a bit of testing. We can’t do those very frequently, but I can say that we’re already working on the next system update.

Some years ago, you said you were handing the reins to Zelda, Mario, Donkey Kong and such off to your teams because you felt the teams were ready and you wanted to work on smaller projects. Do you miss working on those games at all today? Or do you like finally being able to experience them as a player, having had someone else design them?

[Laughs] It’s not that I’m completely uninvolved in those games. I do spend a lot of time giving my teams feedback on overall direction, but then the other thing I do is, as they’re developing the game, they’ll bring it to me and I’ll play it and I’ll be the representative of the first-time user. I’ll say things like, “Man, this isn’t the way I want this thing to play.” So I’ll give them a lot of direction on where to go from there.

TIME Video Games

Samsung Reportedly Making Its Own Virtual Reality Headset

Samsung Electronics may reveal its 'gear glass' — a competitor to Google glasses.
Kim Hong-Ji—Reuters

The Samsung headset would join the race to mass produce virtual reality headsets and immerse millions of gamers in incredible worlds

Samsung is reportedly set to announce a virtual reality headset later this year that would compete with the forthcoming Oculus Rift and Sony’s Project Morpheus.

The Korean consumer electronics giant has already developed early versions of the headset, which wraps around users’ faces, giving users peripheral and forward views, anonymous sources told Engadget. The virtual reality headset would be compatible with Android games.

The finished product is intended to target a lower price, undercutting potential competitors, and could be the first mass market virtual reality headset released. Facebook bought Oculus VR for $2 billion earlier this year and Sony is working on its own Morpheus virtual reality headset, but those devices won’t become available for at least another year.

Samsung did not immediately respond to requests for confirmation..

[Engadget]

TIME Oculus Rift

Oculus VR Company Sued By Game Maker Over Copyright Claims

Oculus VR

Game publisher goes to court for its chunk of change after Oculus gets bought by Facebook.

ZeniMax Media and id Software have sued Oculus VR and its founder Palmer Luckey for allegedly stealing trade secrets and infringing on copyright, among other claims.

The rift began outside of court earlier this month when ZeniMax said that it’d been wronged by former employee and game development legend John Carmack. ZeniMax said Carmack, who became Oculus’ CTO in August of last year, did “extensive VR research and development” while still working at id Software, which is owned by ZeniMax.

Because of Carmack’s work, and a non-disclosure agreement signed by Luckey, ZeniMax felt it was entitled to a non-dilutable equity stake in Oculus, which would be worth a lot now that Facebook is buying it for $2 billion. Oculus previously disputed ZeniMax’s claims and pointed out that Carmack left Zenimax after it stopped investing in virtual reality games.

The lawsuit, as published by The Verge, claims that Carmack worked extensively on Oculus technology at id Software’s offices and even demonstrated the technology to the press there. ZeniMax also claims that it has been researching virtual reality since the 1990s and came up with a VR prototype for some of its major games, including The Elder Scrolls.

“As a result of their years of research, and months of hard work modifying the prototype Rift to incorporate ZeniMax’s VR Technology, Carmack and others at ZeniMax transformed the Rift from $500 worth of optics into a powerful, immersive virtual reality experience,” the lawsuit says.

Oculus has not yet responded, but with millions of dollars on the line, it’s safe to assume this is going to get messy.

Update: Oculus has responded with the following statement: “The lawsuit filed by ZeniMax has no merit whatsoever. As we have previously said, ZeniMax did not contribute to any Oculus technology. Oculus will defend these claims vigorously.”

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser